Masks mandatory in all Nunavut communities with COVID-19

·5 min read

A two-week lockdown ends Wednesday in Nunavut for all communities except Arviat, where community transmission of COVID-19 is still occurring.

Public health restrictions in Arviat remain as they have been for the past two weeks, said Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson during a news conference at the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday.

As well, masks are mandatory, travel outside of the community is restricted and gatherings must not exceed five people, he said.

"This is the fastest way to eventually loosen restrictions," he said.

As of Wednesday, there are 80 active COVID-19 cases in Nunavut and 113 people are recovered, according to the territory's news release Wednesday. There are 11 new active cases announced Wednesday in Arviat, where there are currently 65 active cases. Only one new case was reported in Nunavut on Tuesday.

Natalie Maerzluft/Reuters
Natalie Maerzluft/Reuters

While Whale Cove and Rankin Inlet — communities with active cases — are not on lockdown anymore, restrictions are tighter than elsewhere in the Kivalliq region and masks are still mandatory in both communities.

Three layer masks are best

Going forward, masks will be mandatory in all communities where there are active cases of COVID-19, Patterson said.

For people making homemade masks at home, those masks should fit well to a person's face and three layers of material is better than two, Patterson said.

"If you are taking it off to get a drink of water, don't just pull it down over your chin. Either take it off completely or take it off one ear," he said. "We should wash or sanitize our hands after handling the mask and reusable masks should be washed at the end of every day."

"We can stop transmission within the house, without resorting to relocation. I don't want people to give up." - Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson

Active case numbers in the territory have been in slow decline over the last few days.

"This is a marathon, not a sprint and our actions in the days, weeks and months to come will determine the status of COVID-19 in Nunavut," Patterson said in a release on Tuesday.

For households isolating because of COVID-19 in the home, that isolation must continue until 14 days after the last infected person tests positive.

Patterson said there are some separate isolation spaces identified in Arviat, but that these spaces are nowhere near the amount that would be needed for the outbreak.

He said isolating one person isn't helpful when others in the house may already be infected. But, he said healthy people who live in infected households shouldn't give up trying to stay well.

"Once COVID-19 gets into a house, even in a crowded house, it's not a guarantee that everybody in the house is going to get it," he said. "We can stop transmission within the house, without resorting to relocation. I don't want people to give up."

That's by being careful, cleaning and staying separate from household members who are ill, he said.

Rapid testing on the way for isolation hubs in Winnipeg

New support funds from the federal government mean the territory can introduce rapid testing at isolation hubs, Patterson said.

Preparations are still being made, but an easily transportable testing device will be used to test isolating residents at the two Winnipeg hubs.

This will be done at the beginning, middle and end of each two week stay, Patterson said, as a way to "augment" isolation and "reduce the chance of COVID-19 getting through the isolation hubs."

"We were concentrating our efforts in Winnipeg because it currently has the highest risk of introducing COVID-19 to Nunavut," he said.

Rapid testing is being considered for Ottawa and Edmonton hubs, but risks are lower so these cities are not the government's priority, he said.

"Testing is a possible way of reducing the risk, although we'll never be able to get it to zero," he said.

The lockdown is lifted for now, but it could be brought back if needed, Patterson said in the news conference.

"We were close to the limit of our ability to respond with the rapid response teams. To avoid getting overwhelmed we opted for the territorial-wide lockdown," he said. "It's going to be a possibility that we could have to do this again."

Territory will continue to fund isolation

Early in the pandemic the Government of Nunavut said it would charge non-essential travellers for their stays in isolation hubs — as the N.W.T. government announced this week it would start doing in January — but later went back on that decision saying there were legal and administrative concerns.

While the Nunavut government will keep an eye on the N.W.T.'s policy change, "at this time, our government is not looking at that," Health Minister Lorne Kusugak said.

"We don't want to have a two tiered standard where some people can afford the isolation and others can't," Premier Joe Savikataaq said.

The Northwest Territories has also begun testing high-risk essential workers when they enter the territory — like health care workers, RCMP officers and dentists — Nunavut won't be doing that, Patterson said.

"The difficulty we have is that entry testing, the day before you travel, and relying on those results is potentially harmful," he said, adding that some essential workers will test negative but could still be positive. In other jurisdictions those false negatives have led to outbreaks, he said.

Testing done as of Dec. 1 has shown 588 negative tests in Arviat, 219 negative test results in Rankin Inlet and 125 negative results in Whale Cove.

Monitoring continues in Sanikiluaq where some residents and their households continue to isolate, after two cases were confirmed in early November.

Missed the update? Watch it here:

People who believe they have been exposed to COVID-19 are asked to call the COVID hotline at 1-888-975-8601 between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. ET, or notify their community health centre and immediately isolate at home for 14 days.

The government update will play later in the day on CBC Radio in Nunavut.